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Characterisation of Hunter-Gatherers Network and Implications for Cumulative Culture

Social networks in modern societies are highly structured, usually involving frequent contact with a small number of unrelated “friends”. However, contact network structures in traditional small-scale societies, especially hunter-gatherers, are poorly characterized. We developed a portable wireless sensing technology (motes) to study within-camp proximity networks among Agta and BaYaka hunter-gatherers in fine detail. We show that hunter-gatherer social networks exhibit signs of increased efficiency 2 for potential information exchange. Increased network efficiency is achieved through investment in a few strong links among non-kin ‘friends’ connecting unrelated families. We show that interactions with non-kin appear in childhood, creating opportunities for collaboration and cultural exchange beyond family at early ages. We also show that strong friendships are more important than family ties in predicting levels of shared knowledge among individuals. We hypothesize that efficient transmission of cumulative culture may have shaped human social networks and contributed to our tendency to extend networks beyond kin and form strong non-kin ties.

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04:30 minutes

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Friendship and Hunter-Gatherers Social Networks

Hunter-gatherers offer the closest existing examples of human lifestyles and social organisation in the past, offering vital insights into human evolutionary history. To map the social networks of populations of Agta and BaYaka hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines, researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project in UCL Anthropology used devices called mote - a wireless sensing technology worn as an armband that can record the interactions a person has in one day.

04:20 minutes

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Cooperative Foraging in the Agta Hunter-Gatherers

Agta Mother colaborates with her eldest daughter to catch octopus while the youngest daughter observes and learn. Adapting tools and coral breaking techniques are part of this technology transference. 

02:00 minutes

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Friends and family? Evolutionary theory stresses the importance of living with kin, not least because they share some of our genes. Nevertheless, a large-scale assessment of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies has established a consistent pattern of unrelated individuals living together. Dyble et al. used a modeling approach to suggest that a possible answer to this conundrum is that cohabitation choices are being governed equally by men and women.

Sex Equality Can Explain the Unique Social Structure of Hunter-Gatherer Bands 

01:40 minutes

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Hunter-Gatherers Resilience Project (Video report) 

This video is about a workshop in Cornwall (2014) with PhD students returning from a year of fieldwork with different hunter-gatherers groups. We used this time to analyse cross-culture data and develop collaborative papers. In the video the PhD students talk about their experiences, and field results. 

12:30 minutes

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Cooperation and the Evolution of Hunter-Gatherers Storytelling

Storytelling is a human universal. From gathering around the camp-fire telling tales of ancestors to watching the latest television box-set, humans are inveterate producers and consumers of stories. Despite its ubiquity, little attention has been given to understanding the function and evolution of storytelling. Here we explore the impact of storytelling on hunter-gatherer cooperative behaviour and the individual-level fitness benefits to being a skilled storyteller. Stories told by the Agta, a Filipino hunter-gatherer population, convey messages relevant to coordinating behaviour in a foraging ecology, such as cooperation, sex equality and egalitarianism. These themes are present in narratives from other foraging societies. We also show that the presence of good storytellers is associated with increased cooperation. 

03:55 minutes

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Radio Sensor Technology (No Audio)

This video shows a radio sensor technology developed by our group to trace Hunter-Gatherers social interactions and analyse social networks 

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Duncker Candle Problem (No Audio)

This video is about a cooperative experiment with the Agta Hunter-Gatherers where groups work together to solve the Duncker Candle Problem.

00:47 seconds

Department of Anthropology